These two letters were written by Private Paul George Smith (1840-1891), Co. F, 171st Pennsylvania Infantry (Drafted Militia). Smith was mustered into the service on 4 November 1862 and he was mustered out with the company on 8 August 1863 at Harrisburg. Smith was the son of John Fry Smith (1810-1887) and Eve Miller (1816-1875). He married Emma Jane McClay (1852-1906) in 1874 and had at least a dozen children.
Pvt. Smith wrote the letter to Solomon Manbeck (1831-1893) of Walker, Juniata County, Pennsylvania. Solomon was married in March 1857 to Susan Hower. I believe this is the same Manbeck who partnered with Nelson in the firm of Manbeck & Nelson, grain and coal dealers in Mifflintown, Juniata County, Pennsylvania.
In the first letter, Smith describes the movements of the 171st Pennsylvania as they participated in the expedition to Little Washington, North Carolina, where Gen. John G. Foster and his garrison were besieged by Confederate General D.H. Hill. General Prince’s relief expedition proceeded by transports, accompanied by gunboats, until they reached Rodman’s and Hill’s points, some distance below Little Washington where the Rebels had erected strong works, and mounted guns which commanded the navigation of the Pamlico River. On approaching these works, preparations were made to run through, but it was considered unsafe to do so, and the purpose was abandoned. Two regiments were then ordered to land, and carry the Hill’s Point Battery by storm — the 171st Pennsylvania being one. But before the blow was delivered, they were withdrawn. Prince then returned with his force to Newbern, and Spinola was sent out with a force to make his way across the country, and break the enemy’s lines in rear. On the 9th of April he arrived at Blout’s Creek, where he found the bridge destroyed, the water dammed so as to flood an impassable swamp, and the enemy in position with artillery to dispute the passage. The troops were moved up on the right of the road, and the artillery at once opened on both sides. For some time the infantry was exposed to a heavy fire, but fortunately the enemy’s shots were aimed too high, and passed harmless overhead. Deeming it imprudent to attempt to carry the position by direct attack, Spinola withdrew. In the meantime, a gun-boat had succeeded in passing the batteries on the Pamlico River, and on this, Foster, on the 14th, ran down and returned to Newbern.
In the second letter, Smith tells his friend that the Rebs are ready for the war to end.
Pvt. Smiths parents: John Fry Smith (1810-1887) and Eve Miller (1816-1875)
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
Camp near Newbern, North Carolina
April the 13th 1863
My friends and relations,
It is with pleasure that I am informing you a few lines to let you know that we are all well at this time and hope that these few lines will find you all the same. And further I will tell you how the weather is here and it [is] very hot here now. It is about as hot here as in the middle of the summer at home and last night I was out on guard and I heard the whippoorwill howling like they do in the autumn at home. And further I must tell you that the people is planting their corn here and if we go to town we can see that the gardens is all planted and the peach trees was all full with blossom and they are all fell off off already.
And further I must tell that we had a hard march again in the first of this month. We left camp on the Thursday of this month and went down on the boat and started for Little Washington. And then we went over the Pimlico Sound and then we laid there all night. And in the morning we left there again and went up the Tar River and when we got up the river, then the boat did not stop and we did not know what was wrong with her that she stopped there. And then the rebels had built up a fort there and blocked the river and we could not pass there.
And then we laid on the river five days and five nights, and then we left for to go back to our camp and we got back in the evening and in the morning we got marching orders. And in the morning we had to get ready for to leave here till noon. And when we was ready for to go and then the general came and told us to go to bed and sleep awhile. And then we slept till the next morning and in the morning we left camp again and went to town and there we got on a steamboat and went up the river aout three miles.
And then we crossed the river and then we got off the boat and then we was laying over there and in the evening we left there and marched us about 10 miles that night, and in the next morning they marched us about 8 miles. And then we came where the rebs was and then they [began] to fight with the big guns. And then we was formed in a line of battle and then we laid down in the woods and there we was till night. And I cannot tell how many men was hurt of the rebs but our men shot in one of their big guns and broke her all to splinters and then they stopped firing. And then our men came back and when they came back there was two [of] our men killed and 7 of them was hurt. And then we left there again and came back to our camp again and the talk is that we was going back to Harrisburg for provost guard and I am glad if they will take us nearer home.
But I must bring my bad writing to a close for this time and I think you will be sick of my writing and spelling and you must excuse my bad writing. And so goodbye for this time. Write soon to me.
— Paul Smith
to Solomon Manbeck
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
Camp Washington, North Carolina
June the 25th 1863
I sit down to drop a few lines in answer to your letter dated June 7th letting you know how we are still getting along in North Carolina but I must tell you one thing that I do not like to send home. I am not well now. We was out on picket and we all got very wet and I caught [a] very bad cold in my head but I am getting better again. But all the rest is well. And further I tell you that our old dad is not with us anymore — that is, our old colonel. ¹ He is commander of this Division now here and General Foster went up to the Potomac River.
And you said I should tell you when we thought that we would come home. And I can’t tell you just the particular time but the talk is here in camp that we would start away from here in about two weeks. But I think we will leave here about the 5th of July. And I do tell you that there will be some happy boys when we leave this old place here — that is, if God will spare us that long. And you would not know how tired we are here and further I will tell you that the rebs is just as tired of this war as we are. They are coming in here just as fast as or general can snare them ___ing. Last week there was three families came in here and we love them to come in.
[end of letter missing]
¹ I assume Smith is referring to Col. Everard Bierer (1827-1910) who served as colonel of the 171st Pennsylvania Infantry.